Going to Alaska Aboard the New Discovery Princess

Full disclosure: My wife and I have only been on one cruise before and it was a disaster. We booked the cheapest cabin we could find aboard a “party ship” for a three-day cruise. If the Bachelor or Love Island TV series make you nauseous, then you have a pretty good idea of what we experienced. But that was 30 years ago and we thought it was high time to try out the cruise life once again. Luckily for us, our second experience went a lot better aboard Princess Cruise’s newest ship, the Discovery Princess.

Only in operation since March of this year, the ship known as the Discovery Princess, is huge spreading out 1,083 feet wide and standing tall at 217 feet (and 6.25 inches to be exact!). It contains 1,830 guest cabins, most of which are balcony cabins assuring fantastic views. It can hold up to 3,660 guests and 1,346 crew members. That’s a lot of people, but even on our trip which was near capacity, it never really felt crowded.

For our cruise, we booked a seven-day vacation that began in Seattle, went to Alaska (Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway), Victoria B.C. and back again. It was quite the experience. We saved some money by booking somewhat early in the season and since we live less than an hour away from the Port of Seattle, we saved even more by not having to fly to another city.

Upon hearing “horror” stories from others who have been on cruises, we were expecting a long wait to board when we were dropped off at the port. But to our surprise, all went smoothly. Yes, the line was long, but it moved smoothly through customs, bagging check, etc. We were able to check in and board the ship in a manner of minutes.

The Piazza

Riding up a rounded class elevator, we got our first glimpse of the Piazza located in the middle of the ship. It is elegant, but not so elegant that one would feel out of place wearing jeans and t-shirt, as we were. While the Discovery Princess pretty much adheres to the same color scheme throughout the ship, it does so with a variety of different textures, fabrics, lighting, etc. It’s all very tasteful. Nothing is gaudy.

The Piazza is decked out with spiral staircases, chandeliers, fountains and beautiful mosaic tilework. Live music is often performed throughout the day and the space is used for different events each day from artwork presentations to silly competition challenges.

The piazza is sort of the hub of the ship with a number of the ship’s restaurants, bars, gift shops, art gallery, photo gallery and internet café close by. The space is home to the 24-hour International Café which serves up delicious French pastries, desserts, sandwiches, salads and espresso beverages. Unlike the usual wait time at your coffee shop back at home, they are pretty quick.

The Art of Relaxing

A favorite space for many, the Lido Desk is similar to the Piazza as it serves multiple purposes. It is where our Sailaway Celebration took place, which was quite the party with singers along the balcony and dancers around the pool. It was also the first time we were introduced to Cruise Director DuVaul Gamble and Captain John Smith. Though a little over-the-top at times with the singers belting out Styx’s “Come Sail Away with Me” and the dancers looking more like they were cheerleaders at a high school pep rally, the Sailaway was actually a lot of fun.

The Lido Deck also functions as a large theater with presentations of movies, concerts and sporting events shown on a huge screen that can be seen from far away no matter how bright the sun is. At night, it becomes the place for “movies under the stars” complete with blankets for chilly evenings.

Around the two pools and three hot tubs, the Lido Deck also features three quick-serve eateries: The Salty Dog Grill (serving up hamburgers, hot dogs and fries), Slices (offering plates of Neapolitan-style slices of pizza) and Swirls soft ice cream. There are also two full-service bars there too.

Other places to relax in the sun include the Wake View Pool and Wake View Bar placed the rear end of the ship. It often gets overlooked, but it is a great place to lay out in the sun away from the crowds. For adults not traveling with kids, I recommend finding the Retreat Pool. It’s an adult-only pool area, again with its own bar. (Yes, they are everywhere on this ship!) It’s very quiet and peaceful spot.

(Top two photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

For those who want to splurge, check out what is known as The Sanctuary with its private cabanas, signature beverages and al fresco massages.

Indoors, you’ll find the Lotus Spa which in addition to providing traditional spa treatments, they offer The Enclave, a thermal suite with a hydrotherapy pool, cascading rain shower, heated stone beds, a Turkish-style steam bath and more. This is all very high tech (with additional prices to match) with extra services with names like the Laconium (a heated dry chamber said to help with purification and detoxification of the body) and the Caldarium (a light steam chamber infused with herbal aromas).

Insider Tips

Frenchie Desbuquois
Entertainment Director
Frenchie took some time out of her busy day to meet with me and my wife to discuss how to get the most out of our cruise trip experience. Here are a few tips that she told us:

What are some of the “do not miss” events to have the best experience on the ship?

  1. The big show productions which are usually presented on formal nights.
  2. Take in the game shows or play a few trivia games and meet new friends.
  3. Visit the naturalist on board and take in some of their enrichment lectures.

With so many options onboard, what is the best way to plan one’s day on the ship?

  1. Review the Princess Patter before you turn in for the night. (The Princess Patter highlights EVERYTHING that is happening during the next day including schedules, locations and other useful information.
  2. Turn on The Wake Show first thing in the morning. (The Wake Show is a in-house production highlighting the best activities of the day and hosted by the cruise director.)
  3. Talk to staff members for recommendations. (Although everyone is very busy on the first day of the cruise, they are more relaxed on Day Two. While everyone is busy on the ship, they are (usually) availble to offer some quick advice.

A fun fact about Frenchie

When she was 24 years of age, she saw an employment opportunity to work for Princess. She remembered watching The Love Boat on TV and thought, “Oh my gosh, The Love Boat? That’s a real thing? I can do that? She even met the love of her life on the cruise ship.

Hotel on the Sea

If you can snag a good deal, a cruise is a great way to vacation. The cost per day will often run about the same as a night at a nice hotel room. However, the view from the cabin on the ship sure beats the view of a hotel parking lot. Some people will encourage you to choose one of the cheaper inside cabins. As the name suggests, these rooms don’t have windows. This is fine when you’re traveling in the middle of the sea with nothing to look at except water. But there is something really special looking out your window and seeing a mountain up close and personal. The window also helped to give the room a larger feel making it a comfortable respite throughout the day.

(Left photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

Our suite featured a floor-to-ceiling glass “wall” and sliding door leading to a small outdoor deck, a great place to hang out in the morning with your robe. Our cabin was actually a good size with a queen-sized bed, small sofa, flat screen TV, mini fridge and lots of closet space. Every room comes with a safe too. Although compact, the bathroom worked just fine for us, but really, only one person can fit in the room at a time and I can see where it might be a challenge for some families.

The queen-sized bed was very comfortable with upscale sheets and blankets and room was surprisingly quiet.

Entertainment Tonight

(Images: Princess Cruises)

If you watched older episodes of American Idol that featured Simon Cowell, you probably heard him tell some contestants that their singing was okay, but that they sounded as if they were performing on a cruise ship. For this reason, some might think that the talent onboard would be mediocre at best. I don’t know. that might have been the case years ago, but from what we saw, that isn’t the case anymore.

Located within the Princess Theatre, the Discovery Princess is the first ship to feature the brand-new presentation, Spotlight Bar. This original production has the look and feel of a Broadway show, but at a much shorter length. It was developed by Karen Bruce who is well-known for her work with other shows presented on the London stage.

Taking place in a neighborhood bar located “somewhere”, no character speaks, but as the spotlight focuses on them one at a time, the audience is let in on what each of them are thinking. There is a lot of music and dance crammed in this presentation.

The other big production currently being presented on this ship is Rock Opera. This show is just straight up music blending popular rock and roll tunes with classic opera. Nothing boring. It’s all very lively. In addition, the costumes are fantastic and the dancing amazing. The only downside is that you won’t find this show anywhere other than on a Princess cruise.

During our week, the other headlining acts consisted of a very funny comedian and a magician. Almost every show is presented twice during the evening making it easy to plan around your dinner plans. All of the shows are worth seeing and every seat in the house is a good one.

Meet the Cruise Director

DuVaul Gamble
Cruise Director

DuVaul has been working with Princess for six years. But according to him, becoming a cruise director was never on his “to-do” list, but that all changed after he went on his first cruise.

“Two months later, I was working on a cruise ship. After three years, they made me an assistant cruise director. When the Discovery Princess was ready to launch, they said, ‘We want you to be the ship’s first cruise director.’”

No one is more suited to the role of cruise director than DuVaul. He’s a natural. But he didn’t see it that way in the beginning. He didn’t think he looked the part.

“I’m American (he is one of only 14 American staff members on board), I’m short and I’m black.”

But those weren’t his main concerns during his first run.

“On the first trip, I was more concerned about what I was going to wear than anything else. You want to look the part. I got a new suit. I got a shirt. I looked at myself in the mirror and I was like “This is not me. I really like being a cruise director. I get to do the presenting, the fancy on-stage things with these incredible acts and stuff, but I also get to play around and be goofy and act a fool. There are some who are very prim and proper who you wouldn’t see doing stuff like that. It’s just not in their character. My personality is what you see as a cruise director.”

Food and the Battle of the Bulge

(Image: Princess Cruises)

We’ve all heard the stories of people who dieted for weeks before their cruise only to have gained back whatever weight they lost and then some. Some look at it as getting their money’s worth. While Princess offers plenty of healthy choices, they also know that “healthy” isn’t what most people are looking for while on vacation. Temptation is around every corner.

During our morning meals, we had one waiter who sole job was to place pastries or muffins alongside passenger’s meals. He would serve you one and they ask, “and what else?” making it harder to say no.

The hardest place for one to stick to their diet is probably the World Fresh Marketplace buffet. It is open all day long and features a huge selection of meal options. One can certainly eat healthy here, but there are so many other tempting dishes calling out for your attention. Fortunately, the portion sizes are relatively small, so you can try a little bit over everything without going crazy – unless you want to. And there is always fresh fruit and salad makings available.

(Bottom image: Princess Cruises)

On this ship, there are actually two identical buffets that are located back-to-back with a pastry “shop” located in-between the two. Most people stop at the closest buffet from the stairs and elevators, but the further one is less crowded as a rule. Both offer sweeping views from their large windows. This is a very causal, family-friendly and at times, noisy place on the ship. It is also the easiest way to grab a quick meal before a show.

In comparison, the ship’s three main dining rooms are more upscale with amazingly attentive waiters. From my understanding, they all serve the same menu, so you can dine in one location and not feel as if you’re missing out by not visiting the others. Still, if you’d like a change of pace, you try them out as well. But for dinner, making reservations is the way to go. You can set up a regular time to eat meals and be served by the same wait staff every night.

Each evening, a new menu is presented with a few “favorite” options that are offered every meal. We really enjoyed getting to know our evening waiters and they clearly loved providing excellent service as well without being too “stuffy.”

In the morning, only one dining room is available for breakfast and there is a world of difference between the breakfast and dinner crew. While dinner service is slower and relaxing, the breakfast service is amazingly quick with multiple waiters offering juice, coffee and pastries in addition to the main waiter taking your entrée order. We didn’t feel rushed and could stay as long as we liked, but the service is quick for families who have booked an excursion or had an event to go to.

In addition to the dining choices above, the ship offers a few sit-down restaurants. The Ocean Terrace Seafood Bar and Gigi’s Pizzeria (voted the “best pizza at sea”) are available with no additional charge. Other restaurants that are not included with the regular cruise package include Bistro Sur La Mer (“French bistro-style fare with a modern twist”), Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria (daily fresh pasta and family recipes), Salty Dog Gastropub (gourmet burgers and traditional pub fare), Crown Grill (USA Today ranked it as one of the “Best Cruise Ship Steakhouses”) and Gelato (Italian ice cream).

If you really want to celebrate a special occasion, you might want to splurge at the Chef’s Table Lumiere which the ship describes as a “perfect culinary journey for any special occasion” and “an extraordinary treat for both gastronomes and gourmet novices.”

Keeping Busy

We found so much stuff to do while on board the Princess Discovery that at times, we forgot to relax. For those fitness-minded, the ship offers a huge gym with multiple treadmills, cardio equipment and free weights. There are usually two morning exercise classes available and there is a running track on the top of the ship. (Okay, so it’s really a pathway marked with a couple of blue lines, but it serves its purpose. People walking on that deck know to avoid getting in the way of runners.) Multiple dance classes are available as well in the afternoon from line dancing to ballroom.

Traveling alone or would like to meet new friends? There are a number of social gatherings that take place on the ship every day. If you want to train your mind, the ship offers many enrichment presentations, classes and gatherings with topics including art history, health, crafts, Alaskan culture, afternoon teas, wine tastings and demonstrations on the art of ice carving, poker and cooking. And of course, there is always bingo.

We found that some of the best ways of meeting people were at the numerous trivia contests which cover subject matter from rock music to famous movie lines to geography. The ship’s game shows are a lot of fun as well. Some are fairly simple, but others go all out with large props and costumes resembling famous TV game shows with a twist. And some, like Deal or No Deal is actually licensed to perform on the ship. (Some of Princess’ other ships offer their version of The Voice and it is rumored that this will be brought over to this ship as well sometime in the future.)

The Princess Discovery also offers some programs for kids and teens including The Tree House at Camp Discovery (for kids 3-7) offering clever playtimes like Lego boat-building contests and pajama movie nights. The Lodge at Camp Discovery (for kids 8-12) features kid-sized Olympic competitions, rocket building and treasure hunts. The Beach House Teen Lounge (for youth 8th-12th grade) sounds especially cool. It is a hangout that, yes, offers video game tournaments, but also sports competitions and the “Rock the Boat” teen-only party with awards and mocktails.

The Love Boat Connection

From 1969 to 1974, ABC aired the popular vignette comedy series, Love American Style. When it ended, the show’s producer, Douglas S. Cramer was looking for a new concept and discovered Jeraldine Saunders book, Love Boats. The book was about her time as the first female cruise director and her romances aboard her ship. The book inspired Cramer to create a similar show set aboard a cruise ship. The ship’s staff would stay the same week after week, but the guests would change with each new episode.

To produce the show, Cramer needed an actual cruise ship in addition to stage sets. As it turns out, the headquarters of Princess Cruises operated out of Los Angeles making it a good fit for the show. Beginning with three pilot movies in 1976, the Princess logo and at least eight of the cruise line’s ships have been featured on every episode of The Love Boat. Not only was it great advertising for the cruise line, but the show has often been credited with introducing millions of people to the joys of modern cruising in general.

Although not featured in any of the pilot movies, Gavin MacLeod starred as the fictional Captain Merrill Stubing for all nine seasons of the TV show. When The Love Boat ended its run in 1986, MacLeod served as a spokesperson for Princess Cruises until his death in 2021.

Over the years, the show’s original crew members, Fred Grandy (‘Gopher’), Ted Lange (Isaac the bartender), Bernie Kopell (‘Doc’), Lauren Tewes (Julie the Cruise Director) and Jill Whelan (Captain Stubing’s Daughter Vickie) would join MacLeod for special events. The group came together in 1997 to christen the company’s Dawn Princess ship in Fort Lauderdale.

In 1998, the series was revived on the UPN network with a new cast and new name: Love Boat: The Next Wave starring Robert Urich as Captain Jim Kennedy. The revival series ran for two seasons and set aboard the Sun Princess.

In 2014, the crew came together again to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary and christening the Regal Princess. And 2022 is turning out to be a big year for The Love Boat as well. In February, Jill Whelan, who serves as the company’s Celebrations Ambassador, hosted a special cruise celebrating the life of MacLeod which began on his birthday, February 28. Along for the ride was Whelan’s fellow co-stars reuniting to share their favorite memories while working on the series with Gavin.

Next up, CBS will air the new reality dating show, The Real Love Boat in October. This show stars Jerry O’Connell as the ship’s captain along with his wife, Rebecca Romijn serving as the ship’s Cruise Director. It is also rumored that a few real Princess ship employees will star on the show as well.

The Best Features on The Ship

Princess Cruises now offer what is known as Princess MedallionClass. Every guest is given a medallion that, according to them, “unlocks a world of possibility during your Princess cruise vacation.” Working with your MedallionClass App on your smart phone, you can expect faster boarding (including getting off and back on from destination ports), getting help finding your way around the ship, getting whatever you want/need delivered right to you regardless wherever you are on the ship, helping you locate your family or friends on board, bookmarking events and giving you easy stateroom entry (there are no room keys!).

We loved this feature as we could order snacks or beverages anywhere on the ship. However, the system is new and is still a little “buggy.” Two of our room service orders got lost and the MedallionClass app would often work sluggish. They also promise the “best Wi-Fi at sea” but we found it to not work well at all on our trip. We pretty much had to wait until we were in port before we could use reliable Wi-Fi.

The Alaskan Experience

On our trip we learned how Princess tries really hard to provide an immersive experience for their guests and tailor each cruise to the locations where they are headed. For instance, our ship’s theme was “North to Alaska.” Banners hung in the Piazza showing images of the Alaskan wilderness and settlers during the great gold rush. The cruise entertainment team wore lumberjack shirts and jeans. Enrichment presentations were given about Alaskan glaciers and polar bears. Even puppies who will grow up to become sled dogs were brought on board. (Don’t get too excited. While they are cute, you only get to hold one for about 30 seconds while someone takes your picture.)

One surprising highlight on our trip was traveling through the Endicott Arm. This short journey was amazing. Beginning early in the morning, many guests dined on an early breakfast in their rooms while Naturalist Michael Modzelewski gave commentary through the cabin’s TV highlighting on the wildlife, waterfalls and ice bergs that floated by. His stories, knowledge and sense of humor made the event very special. Although sometimes you couldn’t see what he saw. Those two brown dots in the distance? Those were Grizzly bears. You had to take his word for it.

The cruise offers many excursions at each of the destinations including ziplining adventures, kayak tours, bike tours, train rides, whale watching tours, glacier viewing, etc. The prices for the excursions are not cheap but finding the right one just might make for a great a memory-maker. Plus, we found that the prices of these excursions were the same as what they cost at the stands found right off the ship.

Ketchikan is picturesque with its old, stilted buildings up the hillside and along Ketchikan Creek. This creek is home to a salmon fish ladder where if you come at the right time, the sight of so many fish jumping is said to be pretty amazing. (Needless to say, they they were not jumping on our trip.) Creek Street, which was a red-light district during thedays of the Gold Rush, is now lined with a variety of gift shops. Other spots, easy to get to on foot include The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center, the Tongass Historical Museum, Chief Johnson’s totem pole and the Totem Heritage Center.

(First image courtesy of Princess Cruises)

In Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier is pretty impressive even if you can’t get real close to it, but one of the best ways to get a good look at it is from the visitor center. Right off the ship you’ll find the Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway which climbs up to the mountaintop to an observatory, nature center and restaurant. Down below, the most popular place to be is the legendary Red Dog Saloon. It’s legendary in that it has been in operation since the Gold Rush days and it is where Wyatt Earp once checked in his gun, but failed to claim it when he left. With live piano music being played all day long, there is usually a line of people waiting to get in to enjoy lunch, dinner or maybe even a Glacier Margarita. Other places worth noting in Juneau include the Alaska State Museum, the Last Chance Mining Museum and the many hiking trails.

Of the three Alaskan stops we made, Skagway was by far our favorite. It too is rich in Gold Rush history and the town fully embraces it. While the road in town is paved, the sidewalks are made of wood. The Klondike Gold Rush National Park watches over 20 historic buildings, many of which feature exhibits worth checking out and they are all free. The Skagway Street Car Tours are conducted with costumed drivers driving 1927 sightseeing buses. Not only do they take guests through the small town, but also to a scenic overlook. The Days of ‘98 vaudeville show is the longest-running show in Alaska since 1923. And then there are some oddities like the Arctic Brotherhood Hall building which is decorated with over 8,800 pieces of driftwood. No one knows why.

Other attractions worth pursuing in town include the White Pass Yukon Railway which takes guests along a 20-mile train ride up to White Pass Summit, a hike along the picturesque Lower Dewey Lake Trail and the Klondike Doughboy which makes “elephant ear-styled” fry bread to order.

Of course, Victoria, B.C. is also full of history worth exploring too. However, on this cruise, our ship arrived in port about 7 p.m. and departed again at 11 p.m., so there really wasn’t much to do except eat and drink at the local restaurants and bars and since we could do that already on the ship, we stayed put and watched a movie from our room.

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